Sewerby Stories

Short stories covering the history of Sewerby Hall and the surrounding area.

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Why Lock a Tea Caddy?

This is a tea caddy dating from the eighteenth century. It has a hinged lid and a functioning lock set in an elliptical shaped escutcheon. Inside are two lead foil-lined compartments with lids for storing tea leaves, when out of use, the caddy was locked and the key was the property of the housekeeper.

The caddy has been elaborately constructed using a variety of wood veneers and techniques; the carcass is pine onto which a burr walnut veneer has been applied, with edge stringing in box wood veneer to conceal the butt joints and avoid exposing the pine carcass. On the front face is marquetry inlay depicting a sea shell. The border around the elliptical shaped frame for the shell motif is also box; the background to the shell is holly wood which has been dyed. The shell itself is of box wood veneer, constructed in eight pieces and inlaid; the shadow effects have been made using a clever cabinet maker's technique of hot sanding. The deft application of hot sand to certain areas has singed the box wood, burning into the veneer to create the shading.

The rich materials and costly marquetry craftsmanship is indicative of the social status of tea during the eighteenth century. Its meteoric rise in popularity from a genteel refreshment of showy country house elites in the seventeenth century to the nation's drink of choice by 1750 was tremendous.

It is to this fact that the government, trying to make sure Britain exported more goods than it imported, taxed incoming goods like tea. In 1733 a pound of tea cost 5 shillings; 4 shillings and 9 pence of that was tax! So tea became a valuable commodity requiring careful storage under lock and key, as a pound of tea was more expensive than a gallon of French brandy. But there was another reason for such heavy taxation, throughout the eighteenth century Britain was at war no less than eight times, fighting at one time or another, the French, Spanish, Dutch, America and Indian Mysore at crippling expense to the exchequer.

Whilst tea was so heavily taxed, there were enterprising individuals prepared to go to great lengths to avoid paying it. Our heritage coastline in this part of Yorkshire with its secluded coves, caves and isolated beaches were well known to the coble sailing communities in Flamborough, Sewerby and Bridlington. As well as landing their catch of fish, the cobles were easily modified with false floors to conceal smuggled goods, quaintly known as 'free trade'. Smuggling was big business for these coastal communities. A pound of tea cost 6 pence in Holland, which was recharged to English smugglers for 2 shillings, when sold on at home for 4 shillings and 6 pence, it represented a handsome profit.

To stem the illegal landing of smuggled goods, men with local knowledge were employed as Riding Officers to patrol the coastline. The Customs Officer for Flamborough was Thomas Whytehead, who in July 1736 reported that 1200 pounds of tea was landed at Sewerby, 700 pounds of which was found stashed in farm buildings at Skipsea. A further 200 pounds of tea intended to be landed at Sewerby Carr in the dead of night, was intercepted by Whytehead and his opposite number at Bridlington, Thomas Stavely, confiscated and hauled to the custom house in Bridlington. The customs officers continued to play cat and mouse with smugglers until William Pitt's government reduced the tax on tea from 119% to 12.5% in 1783 making it unprofitable to smuggle. However, tea continued to be stored in caddies such as this because after all, it is a lovely object cared for in the collection at Sewerby Hall.

Wagoners' Special Reserve Lapel

This is a lapel badge bearing the motif of the Wagoners' Special Reserve made to indicate members of this unique corps conceived by Sir Mark Sykes of Sledmere in 1912.

Sykes had seen active service in South Africa during the Boer War and witnessed the logistical problems of transporting men, supplies and equipment to the front line. When he returned from that conflict he worked tirelessly with the Territorial Army and lobbying government to create a unit dedicated to army transport. He was well aware of the skills of the drivers of single pole waggons on the farms up and down the Wolds - many of which were part of the Sledmere estate. He also knew it required six months to train a regular soldier in handling horses and to drive the waggon; horselads of the Wolds were already skilled in precisely what was required. He initiated the Fimber waggon driving trials at Fimber Bottoms in 1912 and through this was able to press the War Office to sign the drivers up as reservists. In 1913, the Wagoners' Special Reserve was established, but this had taken six years and only then because Sir Mark was MP for Hull and had the ear of politicians. For signing up, each Wagoner was paid £1 which they referred to as the 'silly quid' for being paid to do nothing as they saw it. However, active service on the Front wasn't far away.

The following year when war was declared the Wagoners were at the vanguard of the British Expeditionary Force and among the first to go to France; by August 1914, 1127 Wolds horselads had joined up. The Wagoners became part of the ASC of the British Army, though they weren't trained soldiers but accomplished waggon drivers and horse handlers unique to this area, their role was dedicated to keep supply lines operational. Originally billeted miles from the Front, transporting food, ammunition and equipment was extremely hazardous especially as the German heavy artillery was regularly trained on crossroads and main routes to the Front.

Sir Mark wanted to honour the Wagoners' courage and service and sought to memorialise them in a monument. The Wagoners' Memorial was designed by Sir Mark and carved by Carlo Magnoni in the form of a miniature Trajan's Column depicting the story of the Wagoners. It was sited in Sledmere village across the road from the church and unveiled in 1920; it remains a poignant memorial to the brave lads who played such a key role in the First World War but also essential to working farms on the Wolds. Sir Mark never saw the memorial unveiled as he contracted the virus in the Spanish Flu Pandemic and died in 1919.

The Frenchman

This is the paddle steamer Frenchman, built of iron in 1892 by J.P. Reynnolds of South Shields. The ship was a tug boat originally known as Coquet and worked the Tyne at Newcastle until 1899 when it was acquired by T. Gray & sons of Hull. At this point, the tug was renamed Frenchman and settled into double life working winter months on the rivers Hull and Humber, but transformed during summer months into a pleasure cruiser at Bridlington.

Between May and September, the Frenchman carried trippers from Bridlington Harbour, past Sewerby and onto Bempton cliffs to view the seabirds. The tug was originally 90 feet long when built, however due to its profitable success as a pleasure cruiser, was extended by 10 feet in 1906 and was able to carry as many as 250 passengers. The accommodation aboard was basic, but that didn't seem to matter as a trip on board the Frenchman was a quintessential part of a trip to Bridlington, however, there was an awning which was raised during bad weather!

In 1918, Frenchman was requisitioned for war defence work but returned to Bridlington a year later. The paddle steamer continued day trips for passengers until 1927 when it was superseded by the Yorkshireman; Frenchman returned to tug work at Hull and was eventually converted into a coal hulk - a rather undignified end for such an enjoyable career giving pleasure cruises to thousands.

In the collection at Sewerby Hall we have the Frenchman's ship's bell which is unfortunately all that remains as the tug was broken up in 1968.

John Paul Jones and the Battle of Flamborough Head

The wax effigy of the notorious John Paul Jones is in the collection at Sewerby Hall. Depending on which side you stand, John Paul Jones was a hero and founder of the American Navy or a pirate working for the enemy! He was born John Paul in Kirkudbright in 1747 - Jones was added to his name later when he was in America in an effort to avoid being tried in the Admiral's Court for murder.

Wax effigy of John Paul Jones

His naval career began aged 13 sailing aboard ships out of Whitehaven; he worked on slave ships and merchant ships sailing the Atlantic. Eventually he joined the new Continental Navy which was the precursor of the American Navy having settled in America. Whether it was a case of revolutionary fervour or dodging the law, Jones' naval career continued. When France allied with the nascent American republic at war with the British in 1777, Jones sailed to France aboard Ranger, using the port of Brest as a base from which to harry British shipping.

In 1779, Captain Jones took command of the 42-gun USS Bonhomme Richard, a merchant ship rebuilt and given to America by the French shipping magnate, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray. On August 14, as a vast French and Spanish invasion fleet approached England, he provided a diversion by heading for Ireland at the head of a five ship squadron including the 36-gun USS Alliance, 32-gun USS Pallas, 12-gun USS Vengeance, and Le Cerf, also accompanied by two privateers, Monsieur and Granville. When the squadron was only a few days out of Groix, Monsieur separated due to a disagreement between her captain and Jones. Several Royal Navy warships were sent towards Ireland in pursuit of Jones, but on this occasion, he continued right around the north of Scotland into the North Sea. Jones's main problems, as on his previous voyage, resulted from insubordination, particularly by Pierre Landais, captain of Alliance.

On September 23, 1779, the squadron met a large merchant convoy off the coast of Flamborough Head. The 50-gun British frigate HMS Serapis and the 22-gun hired armed ship Countess of Scarborough placed themselves between the convoy and Jones's squadron, allowing the merchants to escape. Shortly after 7 p.m. the Battle of Flamborough Head began. Serapis engaged Bonhomme Richard, and soon afterwards, Alliance fired, from a considerable distance, at Countess. Quickly recognizing that he could not win a battle of big guns, and with the wind dying, Jones made every effort to lock Richard and Serapis together. His famous, albeit possibly apocryphal, quotation 'I have not yet begun to fight!' was uttered in reply to a demand to surrender in this phase of the battle. Finally succeeding after about an hour, following which his deck guns and his Marine marksmen in the rigging began clearing the British decks. Alliance sailed past and fired a broadside, doing at least as much damage to Richard as to Serapis. Meanwhile, Countess of Scarborough had enticed Pallas downwind of the main battle, beginning a separate engagement. When Alliance approached this contest, about an hour after it had begun, the badly damaged Countess surrendered.

During the battle crowds of onlookers amassed on the cliff edge at Sewerby and Bridlington to watch the action; many of them in fear of the American Revolution being played out on their doorstep. Almery Greame who lived at Sewerby House at the time really thought the Americans were invading so she gathered up her jewellery and valuables and fled to York for safety.

The Bonhomme Richard was burning and sinking: when asked if he'd surrender, Jones was reported as saying, 'I may sink, but I'll be damned if I strike'. He refused to strike his colours - lower the Richard's flag as a sign of surrender. An attempt by the British to board Bonhomme Richard was thwarted, and a grenade caused the explosion of a large quantity of gunpowder on Serapis's lower gun-deck. Alliance returned to the main battle, firing two broadsides. Again, these did at least as much damage to Richard as to Serapis, but the tactic worked to the extent that, unable to move, and with Alliance keeping well out of the line of his own great guns, Captain Pearson of Serapis accepted that prolonging the battle could achieve nothing, so he surrendered. Most of Bonhomme Richard's crew immediately transferred to other vessels, and after a day and a half of frantic repair efforts, it was decided that the ship could not be saved, so it was allowed to sink, so Jones took command of Serapis and sailed to the island of Texel in neutral Holland.

A Porcelain Jug and Cover

This is a porcelain jug with cover dating from the second half of the eighteenth century. The trade mark of two crossed swords on the underside tells us this was made by the famous Meissen factory. The company was established at Meissen near Dresden by the royal patronage of Augustus, king of Saxony - a region in Eastern Germany.

The crossed swords trade mark of Meissen

© Victoria and Albert Museum

Meissen was the first manufactory to crack the secret of making hard paste porcelain outside the Far East. The magic ingredients were feldspar and kaolin or china clay which allowed the objects to be kiln fired at very high temperatures until they vitrified. It is this quality of being translucent when held up to the light which separates hard paste porcelain from other kiln fired pottery.

When Meissen was first established in 1710, the factory's early production largely imitated Chinese tea wares painted with oriental motifs. Chinese tea bowls were imported to Europe by the East India Company in tremendous quantities from the 1600s onwards. As the factory grew in size and reputation, the company's artists began to introduce more European motifs such as landscapes, fruits and flowers like the jug and cover in our collection.

Its shape is known as baluster form which refers to the swelling at the bottom of the jug which rises through a concave curve to the spout. The lid or cover is shaped like a tin hat with a knop painted to represent an apple continuing the fruit and flower motifs of the body. The handle is an elegant c-scroll design which is highlighted in maroon painted decoration.

The jug and cover was probably part of a larger set to serve hot drinks: there would be a matching teapot, coffee pot, cups and saucers and maybe even a chocolate pot. This jug and cover probably contained milk. Highly decorative tea services in expensive materials such as porcelain and silver signified the value bestowed on these fashionable new drinks during the eighteenth century. Indeed, tea was a very expensive commodity and was subjected to eye-watering taxes levied on it which is why it was stored in locked containers. Serving tea to friends and family members became a polite accomplishment of the lady of the house which developed into the eighteenth-century tea ceremony. This was never just about having a cup of tea it was an occasion to demonstrate one's refinement, taste, fashionable elite status and of course wealth.

The painting from the Royal Victoria and Albert Museum shows a group taking tea eighteenth century style. Note the teaspoon in the man's and the central woman's tea bowl which indicated they didn't want any more tea!

The Orangery

When John Greame III died in 1841, he was succeeded by his son Yarburgh, who remained a bachelor until he died, but whilst living, he was the most prolific builder of the Greame family.

Yarburgh Greame

Around 1842, Yarburgh added the orangery: a glass house attached to eastern wall of the drawing room to house exotic plants. Like most of Yarburgh's building campaigns, the orangery was designed by the Hull architect Henry F. Lockwood.

The orangery was built using the latest construction materials and technology: cast iron and glass to achieve the roof's curved structure. It is reminiscent of the glasshouses created by Chatsworth's famous gardener Joseph Paxton, who was the creator of the Crystal Palace which housed the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Behind the northern wall was a suite of four rooms which are now part of the orangery. There was a fernery with tall windows facing into the orangery, then there was a gardener's room and an adjoining boiler room to heat the orangery. At the drawing room end of the orangery was a smoking room for the gentlemen which was accessed only through the billiard room.

The Lloyd Greames left Sewerby having sold the house and parkland to Bridlington Corporation in 1934. The idea was to turn the grounds into a public park for the benefit of local people and visitors alike. This is when the orangery became an elegant cafe which was known as the Solarium in the few years before the outbreak of World War Two.

The Orangery Cafe, 1948

RAF personnel at the back of Sewerby Hall

A rather optimistic advert from the 1940 edition of the Bridlington Guide Book which must have been published earlier because in 1940, the house and grounds were commandeered by the military. By 1941, the house had become a convalescent hospital for the many RAF personnel billeted around Bridlington. During that time, the orangery was a ward of twenty two beds, the glass roof had been ceiled over, as we can see in the later photograph of the orangery cafe.

Elsewhere in the house was equipment to treat civilian victims of the devastating bombing raids on Bridlington with capacity to perform blood transfusions. After the war, the house was returned to the Corporation and the orangery resumed its pre-war function as a cafe - which had also taken over the adjoining drawing room. The ceiling installed by the military was not taken down until the major restoration of the early 1990s, when it was found to be riddled with rot.

In the latest restoration of Sewerby Hall, the orangery was refurbished and new facilities added. Hopefully, it won't be too long before it will be once again the location for vintage afternoon teas, concerts and weddings.

A Long Case Clock by Craven Lyon of Bridlington

This is a long case clock by the Bridlington clockmaker Craven Lyon (1793 - 1888), who was born in Driffield. Later he was apprenticed to John Boulton of Durham before returning to work for Frank Dobson and then John Lamplough in Bridlington. He established his own premises in 1823 in High Street, Old Town shortly after marrying his wife Sarah. The business prospered as by 1851 Lyon employed three men and kept an apprentice called William Rawlin as part of the household. He also owned two houses and a blacksmith shop in George Street, Driffield. The electoral register of 1868, the year Lyon retired, shows his residence as 26 Market Place, Old Town while still owning the freeholds at 95 and 96 High Street where his son Charles carried on the clockmaking business. His other son William was noted as an ironmonger which was related to the clockmaking business - Craven himself in a census return was noted as an ironmonger and clocksmith at the High Street premises. Behind these workshops was Lyons Yard - more houses and workshops occupied by tenants. At 97 High Street lived Benjamin Braithwaite, cabinet maker who supplied a lot of the ornate timber cases for Lyons' clock movements. All of which suggests that Old Town Bridlington was a thriving close-knit community hive of industry.

Masur birch, sometimes known as Russian Maple

Our Craven Lyon clock dates from around 1840 and features an arched painted dial, as indeed Lyon clocks invariably had painted dials. In the arch is a maritime scene of boats in sail in a harbour and in the spandrels are small flowers on a blue ground. The clock face is signed Craven Lyon Bridlington. Ornate brass hands on the dial are flanked by two crank holes to wind the clock up which are operated by inserting a crank or key. The presence of the crank holes indicates that this clock has an eight day movement and therefore more valuable than a thirty hour clock which had to be wound every day. It was not uncommon to find thirty hour clocks whose faces featured crank holes painted on in imitation of the more expensive eight day clocks. This was an attempt to mask the fact the owner did not have the means to buy an eight day clock but wanted to appear to be wealthier than they were.

The clock movement is encased in a tall cabinet probably supplied by the Braithwaites, although from 1860 some were made by Lowson Marson of St. John's Street. The arched hood features a swan neck pediment with supporting turned columns. The principal timber is oak with some cross banded mahogany veneer and decorative panels of masur birch with its extraordinary grain pattern resembling burl wood. Masur birch hails from the Baltic region and in this case possibly Latvia, imported to England from the old Hanseatic League trade routes across the North Sea.

Prince Street

In the collection at Sewerby Hall, there is an oil painting of the view of the right hand side of Prince Street in Bridlington, showing the slipway down to Harbour Road next to Lee's Refreshment Rooms, Harrison's stabling and the Britannia Hotel. It is a topographical view of the street which no longer exists. It was painted around the turn of the last century when Prince Street was the heart of Bridlington's bustling commercial district and the Britannia was the place to stay. A time when Bridlington was carving its niche as a premier leisure destination, made accessible to all by virtue of the railway.

Built as a mansion for John Bower, merchant in the early half of the eighteenth century had by the mid-century become the Ship Inn. In 1766 adjoining the Ship Inn, the landlord, Peter Crsyer opened the Assembly Rooms where polite people could meet and be seen. In 1812 the then owner, William Thomson changed its name to the Britannia; a banker from Leeds, Thompson was actively involved in promoting and developing Bridlington Quay.

The building was substantially rebuilt in 1863 and could boast 40 rooms to let to guests. Rooms on the south side of the Britannia had commanding views of the harbour and the golden sands of Bridlington bay beyond. By 1897, the landlord George Mulqueeny advertised that all yacht races could be watched from the terrace as the hotel had once again been refurbished to meet the demands of discerning Victorian visitors.

During the Edwardian era, Bridlington continued to develop commercially, as a resort but also as an entertainment centre. Turning left at the end of Prince Street was the Floral Pavilion, a cast iron and glass structure, later incorporating the bandstand, it hosted concerts and entertainment like Charlie Beanland and his Pierrot troop performances. Bridlington's entertainment hub was the Spa, a short walk around the harbour from Prince Street, which after a disastrous fire in 1906 was rapidly rebuilt opening the following year. By 1910, the famous Herr Julian Kandt and his band were taking the Spa by storm, treating audiences to continental musicality and dazzling waltzes. Having played for King Edward and Queen Alexandra's 40th wedding anniversary in 1903, Kandt and his orchestra was a major coup for Bridlington. People travelled from miles around to come to Bridlington and go to the Spa by night, stay in the Britannia Hotel and promenade beside the sea by day.

When World War I was declared on 4th August 1914, Bridlington carried on regardless, still attracting visitors in great numbers. The town escaped enemy shelling unlike Scarborough and Whitby, but nevertheless, fear of invasion had the town designated as a restricted area and guarded by the Volunteer Defence Corps. Aliens were required by law to register with the police and their movement was restricted. In 1915, Kandt dropped the umlaut from his name and professed his English naturalisation, and by popular demand, was allowed to fulfil his contract and continue playing. In fact he played the following year until a serious illness prevented him coming back to the Spa in 1917.

Bridlington thrived as a tourist destination during the interwar years due to a large extent to the newly incorporated Bridlington Corporation snapping up attractions like Sewerby Hall and much of the sea front. Managing their own marketing and publicity, Bridlington was promoted as the destination of choice for thousands of holiday makers. Meanwhile at the Spa, Herman Darewski and his orchestra made Bridlington famous as a dance capital as the new media of radio broadcast his dances from the Spa from 1925 onwards.

As war got underway once again in 1939, thousands of troops were billeted here and as a busy harbour town, surrounded by RAF airstrips Bridlington became a target itself. Between July 1940 and October 1941 the town suffered intense enemy bombing which devastated significant parts of the town. Prince Street's proximity to the harbour placed it at risk when on the 21st August 1940, the Britannia took a direct hit from one of 20 high explosive bombs dropped on the town. The damage was extensive and eventually the site was cleared and redeveloped as a row of shops with apartment dwellings behind facing the harbour. A rather sad and sorry end for the Britannia Hotel and much of Prince Street, but as long as we have this painting we can see it as it was.

Fort Hall

The painting of Fort Hall (picture one) in the collection at Sewerby Hall painted by an artist called Lucy Foster before 1813. The title is Fort Hall and features a topographical view of Bridlington which no longer exists; in the background is the eastern sweep of Flamborough Head. The painting was gifted to Sewerby Hall in 1976 and can be seen on the wall in the drawing room.

Picture one, painted by Lucy Foster

Picture two, lithograph

Picture three

Fort Hall was a house built in 1792 for John Walker but at some point in the nineteenth century it became the townhouse of the Greame family of Sewerby Hall. In the twentieth century it was the home of the Vickers family.

The other interesting feature of this painting is the fort and the artillery, the cannon have not been painted in indicating the work is unfinished. The fort was built circa 1650 for the defence of Bridlington Bay. Bridlington Fort was sited north of the harbour. Guns were mounted here before 1656 and there is evidence of a Civil War battery either side of the harbour. It saw action in the second war with Holland in 1666, and was enlarged in 1667, when three forts were planned. Partly restored and used in the 3rd Dutch War in 1672 and the war with France in 1678, it was abandoned in 1680, and finally restored in 1702. The earlier fort was demolished by 1748, when a new fort was planned, and may have been built in a reduced capacity as seen in the painting.

The fort complex shown in the painting was part of a series of defensive structures and gun batteries up and down the coast to defend against European aggressors. One such fort still exists at the village of Paull on the Humber estuary which was said to have been established during the reign of Henry VIII. In Bridlington, the street names of Fort Terrace and Garrison Road indicate the area's militia past as the fort here was demolished in 1813 in spite of at the time it was the height of the Napoleonic Wars.

The collection also has a lithograph (picture two) dating from the mid-nineteenth century which is also in the collection at Sewerby Hall, but as a work on paper, it is kept in careful storage. The view is definitely before 1870 as the spire of Holy Trinity church on Promenade visible in the photograph below is not there. Architects Smith and Broderick designed it in the Early English gothic style and it was built in 1870-1. If we compare this view of Fort Hall with that of the oil painting above, it is interesting to note that the artist painted the bow-fronted bay windows facing inland, as opposed to facing the sea shown in the lithograph and the photograph below.

In the photograph of Fort Hall (picture three), the perimeter brick wall seen in the painting has been replaced by cast iron fencing. The picture was taken in the early part of the twentieth century and we can see that bay windows have been added on the second floor to take advantage of the sea views.

Picture four

Excavation of Fort Hall

In the postcard (Picture 4) dating from a sunny seaside day in 1908, Princes Parade and the beach beyond are drawing the crowds. An elegant scene in which Fort Hall is still very much at the heart of things, seen here in the middle distance. However, the house was demolished in 1937 to make way for a new pavilion which eventually became a leisure facility called Leisure World. When Leisure World was redeveloped in 2014, substantial surviving walls from the cellar of Fort Hall were uncovered and recorded in the photograph below.

There is an online gallery of photos showing the excavation of Fort Hall when the remains were uncovered during the demolition of Leisure World in 2014.

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